2008 Grammy Award Winner for:
• 'Album of the Year'
• 'Best Contemporary Jazz Album'
The legendary pianist and innovator explores the words and music of another
musical pioneer Joni Mitchell on his first new studio recording for Verve since
1998's GRAMMY® Award winner Gershwin's World. Inspired in equal parts by
Mitchell's poetic lyrics and unique melodies/harmonies, the musicians play with
a restraint and elegance that achieves a perfect balance between the adventurous
aesthetics of jazz improvisation and the emotional directness of one of the
finest singer/songwriters of the last five decades.
Joni Mitchell and Herbie Hancock, along with Miles Davis, Wayne Shorter, Pablo
Picasso, and other great artists of our time, share an incessant and profound
creative restlessness. They each have always had the desire and need to break
fresh ground with each note played or stroke of the brush. It was exactly this
kind of curiosity which motivated Davis to hire Hancock in 1963 to be a part of,
along with Wayne Shorter, Ron Carter, and Tony Williams, arguably one of the
most important groups of musicians of the twentieth century. It was in fact
Miles who told Hancock to “never finish anything.” Hancock, like Joni Mitchell,
has gone on to explore many different genres and mediums to express his
incessant curiosity, working in the context of jazz, electronic music, funk,
orchestral, and film music.
Hancock first worked with Joni Mitchell on the iconic singer/songwriter’s Mingus
record, an album comprised of collaborations between Mitchell and the great
bassist and composer Charles Mingus. Together with Wayne Shorter, Hancock was
part of a small group with which Mitchell tried to craft a new “conversational”
approach to coupling lyrics with instrumental jazz.
“At this point in my career,” Hancock says, “I want to do something that reaches
into the lives and hearts of people.” For “River”, Hancock enlisted producer/
arranger/ bassist Larry Klein (Mitchell’s long-time producer and creative
partner, who has also produced albums by Madeleine Peyroux and Shawn Colvin
among many others), to help him go deeply into Mitchell’s body of work to select
songs that Hancock and Klein could adapt to a genre-less and conversational
musical approach, while trying to portray the breadth of Mitchell’s gift as a
musician and writer. To add another dimension to their picture of Mitchell’s
musical world, they also included two compositions that were important to her
musical development, Wayne Shorter’s asymmetrical masterpiece “Nefertiti”, first
recorded by Hancock and Shorter on Miles Davis’ classic album of the same name,
and Duke Ellington’s prescient standard “Solitude”.
Hancock and Klein worked for months, carefully reading through Joni’s lyrics and
music, eventually paring their list down to thirteen songs that they hoped
comprised a panoramic view of the poet’s work. They went on to craft
arrangements for songs like the often recorded “Both Sides Now”, and “Sweet
Bird” (from Mitchell’s overlooked classic The Hissing of Summer Lawns) that
transformed the songs into lyrical and elegant instrumental tone poems, devoid
of the trappings of conventional jazz records.
River: The Joni Letters represents a journey into a new world in Hancock’s
search for fresh ground. A world of words.
Herbie Hancock, piano
Wayne Shorter, soprano & tenor saxophone
Dave Holland, bass
Vinnie Colaiuta, drums
Lionel Loueke, guitar
Norah Jones, vocals (1)
Tina Turner (2)
Corinne Bailey Rae (4)
Joni Mitchell (6)
Luciana Souza (8)
Leonard Cohen (10)
1. Court and Spark - featuring Norah Jones
2. Edith and the Kingpin - featuring Tina Turner
3. Both Sides Now
4. River - featuring Corinne Bailey Rae
5. Sweet Bird
6. Tea Leaf Prophecy - featuring Joni Mitchell
8. Amelia - featuring Luciana Souza
10. The Jungle Line - featuring Leonard Cohen